Cruising through life with a camera, healthy appetite, and endless gadget lust.
Saturday, March 27, 2010
The Start Of Something Blur
A few weeks ago, I stumbled across the Bokeh Masters Kit. Since seeing examples of it a while ago, it's been something I've always wanted to try it out. I've also seen several do-it-yourself tutorials but the prospect of ending up with something less than durable put me off making any myself. The Bokeh Masters Kit seemed to solve that particular problem as it's made of plastic and should be more substantial than any card cutouts I make myself. My kit arrived this morning and I only just took my first shot a few minutes ago. My frantic search of appropriate light sources in the house turned up nothing but then I discovered that the street lights in the distance were fine.

My thoughts about the kit. The laser-cut plastic is more than adequate and will last indefinitely if treated right. However, the cut edges have a slight discoloration which makes it look a bit cheap (so does the generic rubber band you have to use to affix the whole thing to your lens). That said, the price is right and you get more attachments than you probably need. Will I recommend it to a friend? I already have.


Monday, March 22, 2010
Long-distance Goodbyes
Understandably, the arrival of a 3-day weekend sees many taking the opportunity to take a short trip further afield than they normally would during a weekend of the usual 2-day variety.

For us at work, we had a farewell party up at school for the 4 who are leaving which was pleasant enough as the company was good and, perhaps more importantly, the food was good and plentiful.

A new kind of suffering came after the party ended. The kind which involves a lot of swearing, some wailing, and maybe even some gnashing of teeth. What was normally a 40-minute drive door-to-door ended up being 2 hours and 10 minutes. I was keeping my eye on highway conditions throughout the day by constantly refreshing the highway page and seeing that my entire journey on the highway would be jammed up the wazoo, I decided to take the back roads thinking that it would be smoother. Big mistake. The problems were three-fold. One: a two-lane road became one early on and only opened up again near my place. Two: between those two points, there must have been, and I kid you not, two-hundred and fifty-three gazillion and forty-six stop lights. Three: this being the last day of a 3-day weekend, all the travelers were coming back home.

Plainly, the next time a farewell party falls on any part of a 3-day weekend, I'm going to stay at home and say my goodbyes over the phone.


Sunday, March 21, 2010


Saturday, March 20, 2010
Wandering Around Kyoto

Making the most of my off-duty days before the new school year begins, Ets and I went to Kyoto to take explore parts of the old capital. We started in Nishiki Ichiba where a long, narrow, covered shopping arcade housed several shops selling small nicknacks and plenty more selling all kinds of food. In all of them, we saw proprietors beckoning to passers-by and master craftsmen practicing their art.

We saw one young man drawing short lines of batter on a squarish metal pan before liberally covering the entire surface with peanuts. He then closed the lid, sandwiching the mixture, and placed it on top of a gas burner where it joined a long line of several other identical pans. The end result is a savoury and crunchy biscuit which conjured a strong desire for a cup of matcha.

Another shop we passed by sold kitchen knives of all shapes and sizes, all forged by the master in the back. Each blade bore his carefully engraved name on the blade just above the tang and a unique hamon. At the time of our visit, the master was busily sharpening several of his knives.

After walking up and down the length of the street, we proceeded to the Kyoto Botanical Gardens. Ets had seen in the news a few days ago that the plum trees were in full bloom. Even though it was a Friday, Kyoto was surprisingly crowded and the garden was filled with flowers and old people alike. We saw some artists either painting of sketching the more picturesque locations and while most of them were seated by the lake, we saw one young lass in the process of completing a huge poster-sized sketch of a water wheel.

The main purpose of coming all the way to Kyoto was the annual lighting up of the region's temples which only lasts for a couple of weeks. But since it was still about 5, we walked around in the general direction of Kodaiji Temple keeping our eyes open for interesting places for dinner. What finally won our patronage was a small izakaya that was unremarkable for the most part except for the smallish window through which you could see skewers of beef tendon slowly simmering in a pot of tantalizing broth. So enticing was this brazen display that we continually saw people glancing, even staring, at the skewers during the course of our dinner.

Kodaiji itself was worth the 600 yen entrance fee and the various buildings in the temple grounds were lit up amazingly. One lake deep within the interior was so still it was like looking at a mirror. The reflection of a smaller shrine above was so clear it was impossible to tell from pictures which was the reflection. I only have one gripe though, and it is that noone was allowed to use tripods within the temple grounds because "there might not be enough space for everyone". Bullhockey.

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Sunday, March 14, 2010
I Dub Thee "Village Pie"! ... Or "Farmers Pie"!
But definitely not "Cow Pie".

Following one of my sudden and inexplicable culinary urges, I decided to cook dinner again tonight and had a similarly pressing desire to try my hand at making a Shepherds Pie. I had found a simple recipe a while ago and it had taken a backseat for some reason or other. Is it a sudden 'homesickness' for the time spent in the UK all those years ago? Maybe, but I thought it'd make a nice change as well as a good chance to try cooking something new.

So first of all, I must admit that a combination of unavoidable circumstances led to what eventually emerged from the oven. Namely, the lack of minced lamb, the wife's inability to eat green peas, and a shortage of willpower to venture out to the supermarket. As such, liberties were taken as to the substitution and interpretation of the recipe.

Neither of us felt like going shopping so we used some minced chicken that was left in the freezer. I know, I know ... no lamb, not even beef (which would made it a Cottage Pie). Just some dry, minced chicken. And frozen.

And to further this sacrilegious display, I used instant mashed potato flakes.

But all in all, Ets and I both agreed that it was actually quite tasty and I consoled myself with the fact that it was probably healthier than using lamb or beef.

So here's the recipe (adapted from here).

2 cups mashed potato (prepared as per instructions on the box)
500g minced chicken
1 onion chopped
1 carrot chopped
4 tbsp butter / margarine
1/2 cup stock
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
salt and pepper to taste
1 tbsp cornstarch mixed with 1 tbsp water

1) Melt the butter in a pan and saute the onion and carrots until tender (about 10 minutes).

2) Add chicken and saute until almost cooked.

3) Add salt, pepper, Worcestershire sauce, stock and cook uncovered over low heat for 10 minutes (add more stock as necessary to keep moist).

4) A minute or so before it's done, stir in the cornstarch mixture to thicken the sauce.

5)  Place all of this in a baking dish and spread the mashed potatoes on top. Drag a fork lightly over the top to make lines and small peaks that will brown and crisp in the oven.

6) Place in an oven heated to 210 C for 30 minutes. Then switch to grill for around 15 minutes to further brown the top.

This was a smidgen more than the two of us needed for dinner but we managed to eat all of it and two slices of garlic toast anyway.

So ... here's how it turned out.

Pretty good, huh? Quite happy that it wasn't dry at all and not LUMpy in the slightest (Mum: nudge, nudge, wink, wink).

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Friday, March 12, 2010
Kyushu & Hiroshima - The Pictures

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Thursday, March 11, 2010
Kyushu & Hiroshima - Pt. 4

A freak snowfall forced ets and me to reschedule our visit to the floating shrine in Miyajima. Surprising as the weather was, the worst of it was during our morning-long train ride from Kyushu to Hiroshima. The scenery that passed us was blanketed by snow and we were relieved that we were spending the next few hours in a warm train and not gallavanting around outside.

Fortunately, by the time we reached Hiroshima, and indeed for the rest of the day, the weather resigned itself to brief sprinklings at random intervals. It was pleasant enough for us to get out and take in Hiroshima castle and the A-bomb museum on foot.

On this our final day, we find ourselves blessed with brilliant sunshine and a much milder and more accommodating clime as a comparably short train and ferry ride takes us to the floating shrine.


Tuesday, March 9, 2010
Kyushu & Hiroshima - Pt. 3

We spent night 2 in Beppu where it rained since we got there but the bracing cold made soaking in a hot outdoor bath all the more pleasurable. We had the ocean right in front of us and hardly anyone else was there.

This morning is just as gray and cold but the rain should stop. Hopefully by the time we get to Yufuin.


Monday, March 8, 2010
Kyushu & Hiroshima - Pt. 2

Ets and I pulled into Yudaonsen Station just before 6 in the evening and, after checking in, proptly went to have a hot bath.

Night One was spent in Matsumasa Hotel and our stay at this surprisingly large hotel was interspersed with public nudity.

We're now on our way to Beppu after an early start and will visit the 8 Hells ... after having lunch.


Sunday, March 7, 2010
Kyushu & Hiroshima - Pt. 1

My travel agent sniffed out the same cheap train tickets that took us to Hokkaido two summers ago. This time, our eyes fell to the Southern-but-not-as-Southern-as-Okinawa isle of Kyushu.

After scouring the web for hotels, should-see spots, and must-eat delicacies, an itinerary was drawn up and we are currently en route to our first port of call; Okayama. We shall take a break from sitting down and enquire what the good town might have in the way of lunch.